Theory of Forms
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|Part of a series on|
|Early life · Works · Platonism|
Epistemology · Idealism / Realism
Theory of Forms
Form of the Good
Third man argument
Euthyphro dilemma · Five regimes
|Allegories and metaphors|
|Ring of Gyges · The cave|
The divided line · The sun
Ship of state · Myth of Er
|The Academy in Athens|
Commentaries on Plato
Middle Platonism · Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism and Christianity
Plato's theory of Forms or theory of Ideas asserts that non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. When used in this sense, the word form is often capitalized. Plato speaks of these entities only through the characters (primarily Socrates) of his dialogues who sometimes suggest that these Forms are the only true objects of study that can provide us with genuine knowledge; thus even apart from the very controversial status of the theory Plato's own views are much in doubt.  Plato spoke of Forms in formulating a possible solution to the problem of universals.
What are the Forms?
The Greek concept of form precedes the attested language and is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision: the sight or appearance of a thing. The main words, εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) come from the Indo-European root *weid-, "see". Both words are already there in the works of Homer, the earliest Greek literature. Equally ancient is μορφή (morphē), "shape", from an obscure root. The φαινόμενα (phainomena), "appearances", from φαίνω (phainō), "shine", Indo-European *bhā-, was a synonym.
These meanings remained the same over the centuries until the beginning of philosophy, when they became equivocal, acquiring additional specialized philosophic meanings. The pre-Socratic philosophers, starting with Thales, noted that appearances change quite a bit and began to ask what the thing changing "really" is. The answer was substance, which stands under the changes and is the actually existing thing being seen. The status of appearances now came into question. What is the form really and how is that related to substance?
Thus, the theory of matter and form (today's hylomorphism) was born. Starting with at least Plato and possibly germinal in some of the presocratics the forms were considered as being "in" something else, which Plato called nature (physis). The latter seemed as timber, ὕλη (hyle) in Greek, corresponding to materia in Latin, from which the English word "matter" is derived, shaped by receiving (or exchanging) forms.
But what were the forms? In Plato's dialogues as well as in general speech there is a form for every object or quality in reality: forms of dogs, human beings, mountains, colors, courage, love, and goodness. Form answers the question "what is that?" Plato was going a step further and asking what Form itself is. He supposed that the object was essentially or "really" the Form and that the phenomena were mere shadows mimicking the Form; that is, momentary portrayals of the Form under different circumstances. The problem of universals - how can one thing in general be many things in particular - was solved by presuming that Form was a distinct singular thing but caused plural representations of itself in particular objects. Matter was considered particular in itself.
These Forms are the essences of various objects: they are that without which a thing would not be the kind of thing it is. For example, there are countless tables in the world but the Form of tableness is at the core; it is the essence of all of them. Plato's Socrates held that the world of Forms is transcendent to our own world (the world of substances) and also is the essential basis of reality. Super-ordinate to matter, Forms are the most pure of all things. Furthermore, he believed that true knowledge/intelligence is the ability to grasp the world of Forms with one's mind.
A Form is aspatial (transcendent to space) and atemporal (transcendent to time). Atemporal means that it does not exist within any time period, rather it provides the formal basis for time. It therefore formally grounds beginning, persisting and ending. It is neither eternal in the sense of existing forever or mortal, of limited duration. It exists transcendent to time altogether. Forms are aspatial in that they have no spatial dimensions, and thus no orientation in space, nor do they even (like the point) have a location. They are non-physical, but they are not in the mind. Forms are extra-mental (i.e. real in the strictest sense of the word).
A Form is an objective "blueprint" of perfection. The Forms are perfect themselves because they are unchanging. For example, say we have a triangle drawn on a blackboard. A triangle is a polygon with 3 sides. The triangle as it is on the blackboard is far from perfect. However, it is only the intelligibility of the Form "triangle" that allows us to know the drawing on the chalkboard is a triangle, and the Form "triangle" is perfect and unchanging. It is exactly the same whenever anyone chooses to consider it; however, the time is that of the observer and not of the triangle.
more on forms here.
back to Symmetry.